VCU Rice Center

Lake Charles

Wetland ecology and restoration

A major wetland and stream restoration effort is under way at the Rice Center. Lake Charles, a prominent feature of the center since the mid 1920s, was formed when an earthen dam and spillway was built at the mouth of Kimages Creek at the James River. The impoundment flooded 70 acres of tidal and non-tidal freshwater wetlands, primarily bottomland hardwood swamp forest dominated by bald cypress and tupelo gum. The impoundment altered the hydrology and ecology of this wetland and its tidal creek, both critical habitats in the lower James River ecosystem.

Rice Center researchers are now working in collaboration with multiple agencies and organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, American Rivers and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to restore the original 70 acres of lake bottom and 1.5 miles of tidal creek to their natural hydrology and ecosystem functioning. Elements of the project include removing much of the dam and spillway and replanting portions of the historic wetland area with native plants, thereby providing a significant increase in this critical habitat along the lower James River.

A wide variety of research projects are under way to describe the restoration process, including studies on wetland plant and microbial ecology, biogeochemistry, nutrient and carbon dynamics, the reestablishment of anadromous fish runs in the stream, conservation of key species of wildlife, and control of invasive species in restored wetlands.

Click here for a timelapse video of the restoration process.

Click here for flyover of Lake Charles before the restoration project.

Lake Charles imagery